Movie Project #14: To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]
Director: Robert Mulligan
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Starring: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters
Runtime: 129 minutes

Way back in high school, in one of my English classes, I was assigned to read Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Already tired of reading less-than-desirable books (in my teenage eyes) such as ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’, I opted to stick to Cliff Notes for that particular classic. Looking back now, many years later, I wish I had read Lee’s famed novel, especially after finally viewing the 1962 film adaptation.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a snapshot of the 1930s Deep South as seen through the eyes of a six year old named Scout (Mary Badham). Our young protagonist and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) enjoy life in their small rural town, playing around and making new friends, but they are also wary of this shady character named Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) who lives down the street. Legend has it that Boo is chained to a bed and only comes out at night. He’s also six and a half feet tall, and boasts a diet of raw squirrels and “all the cats he can catch.” Gotta love kids and their wild imaginations.

To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

While the first act of the film focuses on the playful nature of the kids and their rural upbringing, the film takes a stunning turn once their father, town lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), is assigned a new case. Atticus is selected to represent a black man, Tom Robinson (the terrific Brock Peters), who has been accused of raping a young white woman. Racism is running rampant during this time period, so naturally Tom doesn’t have much of a fighting chance despite there being an extraordinary amount of evidence to prove he is innocent.

During the actual trial, we are shown an absolutely incredible scene where Atticus delivers a powerful speech that any sane, non-bigoted person would believe and approve of. This is where Gregory Peck is at his finest. He delivers this speech with a sense of conviction in a way that makes everyone in the courtroom (viewers included) give him their full attention. It’s a shame that this moment is wasted shortly after when the jury finds Tom to be guilty anyway.

After the trial, life changes quickly for Atticus and his children. Many of the locals are irate over Atticus defending a black man, regardless of whether he was innocent or not. This hatred is defined by the movie’s villain, Bob Ewell (James K Anderson), the victim’s father and her true assailant. In a drunken stupor, he attacks Scout and Jem, only for them to be saved by the same man they were once scared of, Boo Radley. Funny how that works out.

To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

To Kill a Mockingbird is an intriguing film that carefully tackles the issue of racism while also providing a nostalgic look at childhood. If I have any reservations, it is that the transition from playfulness to a serious court trial is a bit jarring, as it almost feels like two separate movies were merged together as one. Still, there’s no denying the film’s importance in history, and not enough can be said about Gregory Peck’s unforgettable performance.

While researching this, I learned that the film also had a lasting impression on its cast members. Gregory Peck received the pocketwatch of Harper Lee’s father, became the surrogate father to Mary Badham, and Brock Peters delivered Peck’s eulogy after his death in 2003. If that doesn’t show the lasting importance of this film, I don’t know what would.

9/10

Movie Project #33 and #34: The Godfather: Part II [1974] and Casablanca [1942]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Godfather: Part II [1974, Francis Ford Coppola]
The Godfather: Part II [1974, Francis Ford Coppola]
Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall.

As part of our traditional Thanksgiving movie marathon, my girlfriend and I opted to watch the first two Godfather films back to back, as well as a couple of other classics. I had seen the first Godfather before, but that was many years ago. The Godfather: Part II is a fantastic followup to the original, this time focusing on Michael Corleone as the new Don. Michael is an intriguing figure who clings to ideals that are starkly different from his deceased father, and many of his actions make him out to be a cold-hearted bastard. In fact, it was almost hard to watch the film at times simply because Michael was a complete asshole to everyone involved in his life. A phenomenal piece of acting from Al Pacino, but man, what a dick.

There is also a parallel storyline in Part II that shows the early life of Vito Corleone, this time played by Robert De Niro in one of his finest performances. I found this story to be the more fascinating of the two, as it showed Vito’s evolution from a young immigrant arriving on Ellis Island to his rise as the Godfather. The two unique storylines in the film are masterfully connected, culminating in an epic saga that never has a dull moment. Not enough can be said about the all-star cast (Pacino, De Niro, Duvall, Cazale, Keaton, etc.), and the ending is just as powerful as the original’s unforgettable conclusion. It’s not often that a sequel can be considered as good as its predecessor, and many even consider this to be the best of the trilogy. I still prefer the first film, mainly because I actually liked Brando’s Vito Corleone, but there is no mistaking that Part II is another masterpiece. 9/10

Casablanca [1942,  Michael Curtiz]
Casablanca [1942, Michael Curtiz]
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid.

I don’t know what is more shameful to admit: that I hadn’t seen Casablanca before this, or that I had never seen a Bogart film period. It’s easy to see why both Casablanca and Bogart are held in such high regard. The film is such a classic love story, and Bogart is just the man to play the cynical lead, Rick Blaine. Tough on the outside but broken hearted on the inside, Blaine is certainly a memorable character, and the chemistry between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (as Ilsa Lund) is off the charts. The love triangle between the two of them, and Ilsa’s current husband, Victor Laszlo (Henreid), is brilliant in that all three characters are immensely likable.

One can only imagine how difficult of a decision it would be for all parties involved in this triangle. Will Ilsa run away with her long lost flame? Will Rick help Ilsa and her current lover escape from the Nazis, even though there is clearly still a spark between the two of them? It’s one of those great moments in film where the story could result in a number of endings, but I was very pleased with the final conclusion. It took some major cojones to not go with the typical Hollywood ending, and for that I am very grateful. I liked the movie well enough after watching it, but I just gained a whole new appreciation of the film after sitting down to gather my thoughts and write about it. Simply wonderful. 9/10

Get Low [2010]

Get Low [2010]

Get Low [2010]
Director: Aaron Schneider
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Don’t let the title fool you — this is not a film about Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz.

Get Low tells the tale of Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a reclusive mountain man living in 1930’s Tennessee. One day he receives word that a past acquaintance died due to old age. This gets Felix to think about his own life and how he is near the end of the road himself. On a rare venture into town, he stops by the funeral home and makes an odd request: he wants to have a funeral for himself while he’s still alive. The funeral’s owner (Bill Murray) and his ever-ready understudy (Lucas Black) are dumbfounded by this question, but agree to throw him a “funeral party.” Bush’s goal for this party is for people to tell stories about him (since he has developed quite the reputation because of his living habits), and to finally tell the secret as to why he has been a recluse for the last 40 years.

I found this to be an interesting plot concept, and apparently it is based on a true story. However, I was initially intrigued by this movie largely due to its cast. Seriously, there are some masters at work here. Robert Duvall is excellent as an old hermit, effortlessly portraying a man who strikes terror to those who only know the urban legends, yet also showing a polite and witty man to those who get to know him. Bill Murray is also on the top of his game as the shady funeral director who will do anything for a quick buck (i.e. perform a funeral for a living man). Although there are questions about his character, the funeral director comes across as a likable guy, which is very much to Murray’s credit. I haven’t really seen much from Lucas Black before, but he holds his own against the legends, and I’m sure he had the time of his life on set with them. A couple other greats have small roles as well — Sissy Spacek plays an old flame who knew Felix way back in the day, and Bill Cobbs is a reverend who is perhaps the only person who actually knows Bush’s secret.

While the acting certainly shines, the movie itself is slow and takes its sweet time to really get anywhere. This isn’t a huge problem since it really is a delight to watch these actors on screen, but the script could have been livened up a bit. As one would expect, the party is hyped up throughout the movie. The funeral director spends significant time marketing the event and trying to get a large turnout, even getting Felix to appear on a radio show to help bring in people to tell stories about him. Unfortunately, by the time the party actually comes, it is a bit anticlimactic. The movie hypes up what will happen at the event, but doesn’t deliver on everything promised. I couldn’t help but feel a tad ripped off in the end.

Still, even with its shortcomings Get Low is a good first effort from director Aaron Schneider. A stronger script could have taken this movie to another level, but it does just enough to get by thanks to its fantastic cast.

7/10